BPL Book Review: Kate Andersen Brower's Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump

By William Anthony|Birmingham Public Library Citizen Services Department

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States of America.

When the current president moves into the White House, people think about the previous administration while others anticipate what the current administration brings.

The presidency of Donald Trump was bizarre time for American politics.

Uncharted territory unfolded before the American people.

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump reveals the valuable lessons of being a former president.

Kate Andersen Brower explores the accomplishments and mistakes of the following former U.S. presidents: Jimmy CarterGeorge H.W. BushBill ClintonGeorge W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Surprisingly, the Trump administration appears sparingly throughout the whole book while Brower dissects what it means to be a leader. But she still explores in length the ongoing tension between Trump and the Presidents Club.

The exclusive, shared experience of leading the U.S.A. is nicknamed the Presidents Club.

Despite being named in the title, the 45th president does not dominate most of Brower’s research.

She maintains a bipartisan tone while comparing and contrasting these men and their contributions to the hallowed grounds of the White House.

In her book, Brower lists several important rules of the Presidents Club that are meant to unite these former leaders and their families.

Some of these unwritten rules are as follows: 

  • respecting the office
  • not criticizing the sitting president
  • not being afraid to ask for help
  • coming together for celebrations or tragedies

They provide a deeper, well-earned understanding of the presidency’s sacredness.

It is the shared experience of making tough, critical decisions that should remind former presidents how much they have in common.

Dwight D. Eisenhower still mentored John F. Kennedy while he dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the 34th president also did not hesitate to show his successor tough love over handling conflict.

The terrifying events of 9/11 changed the presidencies of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama drastically. They can relate over how they handled and reacted to this tragedy.

Bush 43 kept the country united during that heartbreaking period while Obama oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden almost a decade later. Such examples are a testament to these rules' validity.

This is the sentiment that Brower holds onto tightly as she shares what she learned about the former U.S. presidents.

As different as all the former presidents might be, readers will find Team of Five heartwarming while learning about the friendships and shared memories between some of these former leaders.

Although they were political adversaries (especially during the 1976 election), Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter put aside their differences while flying together for a funeral in Egypt back in 1981.

They connected over topics like how they handle raising money and the sting of defeat during election season. Carter and Ford remained best friends until Ford’s death in 2006.

SimilarlyGeorge H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton forged a father-son relationship after they worked together on tsunami relief back in the mid-2000s.

Barbara Bush even jokingly nicknamed the 42nd president as the black sheep of her family. That is how close the Clintons and the Bushes became over time.

When Clinton won the 1992 election, Ronald Reagan invited him to his office in California where he imparted sound advice to the former governor of Arkansas about being a presidentClosing out their meeting, Reagan taught the president-elect how to properly salute and gave him a jar of red, white, and blue jelly beans.

These anecdotes seem disconnected from the controversies surrounding Trump's administration. Hope shines proudly from stories like these in Brower’s latest book.

Although a minor detail, my favorite part of Team of Five is the proper and affective use of quotes from former U.S. presidents. Their words capture how the American people should approach the nature of leadership.

While wrapping up what it means to be a part of the Presidents Club, one quote from Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, captures the integrity that is inherent to the presidency.

Truman reminds us, “When you get to be president, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things, you have to remember it isn’t for you.” This straightforward but genuine reflection rings truer now more than ever. 

When Trump won the 2016 election, Obama met with press aides and assured them, “The sun is shining. We have to remember—history doesn’t move in a straight line, it zigs and zags.”

The 44th president maintained a positive but mature attitude about this election season. He also stressed how the Bush 43 administration went above and beyond to make sure that his administration had no issues settling into the White House.

This is why the transition from Bush 43 to Obama is considered one of the most peaceful transfers of power in American history.

Obama vowed to maintain another smooth transition for Trump and his cabinet even though he was disappointed with the outcome of the 2016 election.

Being a part of the Presidents Club is an honor that only a handful of people will experience, but it is not meant to inflate their egos either.

Setting foot in the Oval Office should be an incredible and a humbling opportunity for anyone.

All the hard work, enduring discussions, lengthy phone calls, and even arguments that took place inside of that room shed light on the more introspective side of presidential history.

Check out Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump from one of the many members of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, including the Birmingham Public Library. 


Unknown said…
This is great!